When it comes to how followers of Jesus ought to engage in politics, I’m an Anabaptist. Anabaptists believe in following Jesus’ radical ethic laid out in the Sermon on the Mount, and keeping the church separate from earthly power and politics.
Here’s Greg Boyd, another Anabaptist thinker, giving 12 reasons to keep the kingdom of God separate from worldly politics.
- Jesus came to establish a kingdom that was not of this world. This is why Jesus refused to call on angels to defend himself and why he forbid his followers to use violence to defend themselves or advance their cause. It’s also why neither Jesus nor Paul nor any other NT author ever tried to advance the kingdom or influence society through political means. As representatives of the kingdom of God, we are called to do nothing more or less than what Jesus did. The kingdom of God always looks like Jesus, dying out of love for the people who crucified him. Following his example, kingdom people are called to transform the world not by the power of the law but by the much greater power of Christ-like, self-sacrificial love. Our central call is to “be imitators of God” and to “live in love as Christ loved us and gave his life for us” (Eph 5:1-2). We are to follow Jesus’ example in all things.
- People in Jesus day consistently tried to get him to “weigh in” on the political options of his day, yet Jesus consistently refused. He resisted the devils temptation to acquire the “glory and authority” of nations by any means except through self-sacrificial love. Jesus’ goal wasn’t to provide us with “God’s opinion” on the “right” political option or “right” nationalistic agenda. His goal was to provide a radical alternative kingdom to all political options and all nationalistic agendas. Followers of Jesus are called to imitate this attitude and behavior. We may participate in government however we feel called, but must never confuse this participation with our unique calling to represent the kingdom of God.
- All versions of the kingdom of the world retaliate when harmed or (sometimes) threatened, but kingdom people are never to retaliate, never return evil with evil, but instead return evil with good (Matt 5:37). Governments and political parties always act in their own self-interest, but kingdom people are to always sacrificially act in the interests of others. Kingdom people are to bless those who persecute us, pray for those who mistreat us and to prefer serving others above being served by others. Political parties and nations don’t do this. Kingdom people are to never do anything except in a way that manifests Christ’s love, never to insist on having our own way (as in fighting for our “rights”), never to participate in violence and to always consider our own sins, however “minor,” to be tree trunks in our own eyes while viewing other people’s sins, however “major,” to be mere dust particles. This is antithetical to the way political parties and nations operate. This radically unique, loving, humble, servant-hood demeanor manifests the holiness of the kingdom of God and it is compromised when Christians in any way associate the kingdom of God with any political party or nation.
- The Church is called to be the ‘body of Christ” because it is to do exactly what Jesus did in his incarnate body. Though he was sinless, Jesus attracted “tax collectors,” prostitutes,” and other “sinners” who were the most despised people of his day by loving them and serving them just as they were. Never did he try to pass laws against them. The publicly expressed concern by Christians to pass laws against people who have sins they don’t have is one of the reasons the “body of Christ” is not attracting sinners like Jesus did. It is one of the primary reasons Christians are known for many (mostly negative) things but not known for our outrageous, Calvary-like love. Yet, it is our love, above all else, that God says we are supposed to be known for (Jn 13:35). Indeed, this is the primary way the world is to become convinced Jesus is Lord.
- Israel was the one nation in history that was once “under God” (forming a theocracy). Yet Jesus rejected the many attempts of people to get him to use political power to “take Israel back for God.” Jesus was showing us that the kingdom of God can’t be associated with any national or political ideology. If Jesus didn’t associate the nation of Israel more closely with the kingdom of God than any other nation, how much less should Christians today be inclined to associate America or any other nation or political agenda with the kingdom of God? And if Jesus didn’t try to use political power to “take Israel back for God”—though many wanted him to—how much less should his followers today be inclined to try to “take America back for God” through political means? (Also, it’s not clear when America “belonged to God.” It was founded on violence, genocide, and slavery.)
- Satan owns the “glory and authority” of “all the kingdoms of the world” (including America!) and he gives this authority to anyone he pleases (Lk 4:5-6). Jesus refused the devil’s temptation to acquire the authority to rule others by any means other than through self-sacrificial love, expressed on Calvary. His followers are called to resist this same temptation and follow his example.
- Satan is the “god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4) and “ruler of the world (Jn 12:30; 14:31) who “controls the entire world” (1 Jn 5;19) and possesses all the power of “all the kingdoms of the world” (Lk 4:6). While governments are ordained by God to preserve law, order, and justice (Rom 13), and while some governments do this better than others, kingdom people must always know that there’s a demonic element also at work in all governments and thus must take great care to keep the kingdom of God distinct from all of them.
- Among Jesus’ followers was a tax collector (ultra “right wing”) and a zealot (ultra “left wing”). Yet Jesus never once comments on either of their views, thereby revealing that such political differences are irrelevant to the alternative kingdom Jesus came to establish. When Christians today associate one political party or nationalistic agenda more closely with the kingdom of God than others, we compromise the separateness (the “holiness”) of the kingdom of God and then inevitably divide the body of Christ.
- Christians are called to be soldiers for the kingdom of God and thus not to be “entangled in everyday affairs” (e.g. the politics of the region where we’re stationed as soldiers). We are rather to seek “to please our enlisting officer” (2 Tim 2:4), Jesus Christ, who calls us to do nothing more or less than imitate him in his loving service to people as a witness to the alternative kingdom he was establishing in the world. Our witness is our willingness to serve and suffer for people whose lifestyle we may object to and even people who may despise us.
- Without exception, whenever the Church as succeeded in gaining what so many Christians try to acquire—political influence—it has resulted in a government that is bloodier than most secular governments. If Scripture is not sufficient to teach us to keep the kingdom of God completely separate from the politics of the world, history should be!
- Whenever the Church succeeded in gaining political influence, it has eventually all but destroyed the Church. All the areas once “ruled” by Christians are now more pagan and hostile to the Gospel than unreached areas (Europe for example). This is not an accident, for the Church is called to be a servant, not a master, of the world.
- The association of Christianity with political and nationalistic agendas has caused untold harm for missions around the world. Many today understandably resist the Gospel because they associate it with atrocities committed by countries identified as Christian in the past (e.g. Europe) or the present (America). For the sake of the Gospel, kingdom people need to proclaim that neither America nor any other country is or ever was “Christian.” The kingdom Jesus came to establish, and the kingdom we’re called to represent, is “not of this world” (Jn 18:36).